The Abbey Theatre and the Easter Rising, 1916

By Abbey Theatre

This exhibition looks at the influence of the Irish Literary Revival in the lead up to the events of Easter week 1916. It also remembers the  contribution of Abbey Theatre company members and the impact of the Rising on the theatre's operations. Finally it recalls the 50th anniversary commemorations at the Abbey Theatre.

Exterior of the old Abbey Theatre. (1913) by Photographer unknownAbbey Theatre

The Literary Revival

Ireland's literary revival is central to an understanding of the events of the period 1916-1923. It contributed to a sense of national identity and a reassessment of Ireland's status within the British Empire. The Irish Literary Theatre and its successor the Abbey Theatre would become the crucible for new Irish writing, bringing the 'deeper thoughts and emotions' of Ireland to the Irish stage.

Portrait sketch of Lady Augusta Gregory. (1905) by John Butler YeatsAbbey Theatre

Lady Augusta Gregory (1852-1932): playwright, folklorist, co-founder of the Irish Literary Theatre and Abbey Theatre with W.B. Yeats. She was key figure in the late 19th-century Irish literary renaissance.

W.B. Yeats. (Circa. 1911) by Photographer unknownAbbey Theatre

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939): poet, playwright,and co-founder of the Abbey Theatre. In 1898 he established the Irish Literary Theatre with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn.

Kathleen Ni Houlihan by W.B. Yeats. (1902) by Irish Literary TheatreAbbey Theatre

In his play Kathleen ni Houlihan (1902) Yeats idealises the fight for an independent Ireland. Following the 1916 Rising he wondered:

‘Did that play of mine send out/ Certain men the English shot?’

Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh as Queen Gormleith in Kincora by Lady Augusta Gregory. (1905) by Photographer unknownAbbey Theatre

In Lady Gregory's play Kincora (1905) High King of Ireland Brian Boru, and his son, refuse to turn their backs on Ireland in return for eternal happiness.

A Christmas Hamper by Mr and Mrs McHardy-Flint's company, programme., Abbey Theatre, Mr and Mrs McHardy-Flint's company, 1905, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Eamon De Valera, Easter 1916 rebel and future Taoiseach of Ireland, in a little known stage performance at the Abbey Theatre in 1905.

Seymour's Redemption by Count Casimir Dunin-Markievicz, programme., Abbey Theatre, 1908, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Countess Markievicz, Easter Rising rebel, playing as Daphne Tisdall in the world premiere of Seymour's Redemption at the Abbey Theatre, 1908.

The Theatre of Ireland company at the Abbey Theatre. (1908-05-22/1908-05-23) by The Theatre of IrelandAbbey Theatre

Performances by Countess Markievicz and other 1916 rebels. Markievicz was second in command at St. Stephen's Green during the Easter Rising.

When the Dawn is Come by Thomas MacDonagh; programme for the first production., Abbey Theatre, 1908-10, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Programme for the world premiere of When the Dawn is Come by Thomas MacDonagh, Abbey Theatre, 1908. Prophetically, the play centres on seven captains of an Irish Insurgent Army.

When the Dawn is Come by Thomas MacDonagh, published playscript., Abbey Theatre, 1908, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Playscript of When The Dawn is Come by Thomas MacDonagh,1908.

MacDonagh was later executed for his part in the Easter Rising, 1916.

Performances in aid of St. Enda's College by the Abbey Theatre., Abbey Theatre, Abbey Theatre, 1913-05-17, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Abbey Theatre performances in aid of St. Enda's College, 1913.

Founded by Padraic Pearse, Easter Rising 1916 leader, St Enda's students performed in both plays. Many of them joined Pearse in the GPO in 1916.

Abbey Theatre poster, Easter 1916 (1916) by Abbey TheatreAbbey Theatre

Easter Week 1916

As events unfolded in Dublin's city centre, and throughout the country, the Easter Rising had a profound effect on the Abbey Theatre, its actors and staff. 

Programme of performances for Easter Monday. (1916-04-24) by Abbey TheatreAbbey Theatre

Programme for the Abbey Theatre's cancelled performances, scheduled for production on Easter Monday 1916. Actors Sean Connolly and Arthur Shields listed in the productions took part in the Rising.

Programme of performances for Easter Tuesday. (1916-04-25) by Abbey TheatreAbbey Theatre

Abbey Theatre programme listing productions scheduled for Easter Tuesday 1916. Due to the Easter Rising the world premiere of The Spancel of Death by T.H. Nally was cancelled.

Sean Connolly, Easter Rising 1916 rebel and Abbey Theatre actor. by Photographer unknownAbbey Theatre

Sean Connolly, Easter Rising rebel and Abbey actor. Firing the first shots of the Rebellion he was also the first rebel to be killed, leading the attack on Dublin Castle and City Hall.

Ellen Bushell, Easter Rising 1916 rebel and Abbey Theatre staff member., Photographer unknown, Abbey Theatre, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Ellen (Nellie) Bushell, Easter Rising rebel and usherette at the Abbey Theatre.

Barney Murphy, Easter Rising 1916 rebel and Abbey Theatre staff member. (1920) by Photographer unknownAbbey Theatre

Barney (Bernard) Murphy, Easter Rising rebel, Abbey Theatre stage hand and prompter, served at the Four Courts under Commandant Ned Daly.

Easter Rising 1916 rebel, Arthur Shields (right) with fellow Abbey Theatre actor Gabriel Fallon., Photographer unknown, Abbey Theatre, Circa. 1925, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Abbey Theatre actors Gabriel Fallon and Arthur Shields in the 1920's. Arthur Shields took part in the Easter Rising, serving at the GPO, and was part of the final surrender on Moore Street.

Property list for Widower's Houses by Bernard Shaw., Abbey Theatre, 1916, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Programme of opening night performances at the Abbey Theatre. (1904) by Abbey TheatreAbbey Theatre

Edward Keegan, who played one of the Kings in On Baile's Strand (1904), took part in the Easter Rising 1916 at the South Dublin garrison under Eamonn Ceannt.

Portrait of Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh. (1904) by John Butler YeatsAbbey Theatre

Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh, Easter Rising rebel and Abbey Theatre actor. She served at Jacob's Biscuit Factory under the command of Thomas MacDonagh.

The Dreamers featuring Helena Molony, Easter Rising 1916 rebel and Abbey Theatre actor. (1916) by Abbey TheatreAbbey Theatre

In the weeks leading to the Rising, Helena Molony, Arthur Shields, Sean Connolly and Peadar Kearney appear together in the revolutionary drama The Dreamers by Lennox Robinson at the Abbey Theatre.

Peadar Kearney, Easter Rising 1916 rebel and Abbey Theatre staff member. (1912) by Seaghan BarlowAbbey Theatre

Peadar Kearney, Easter Rising rebel, composer of A Soldier's Song (Irish National Anthem), Abbey Theatre stage hand, scenic artist and occasional actor.

The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey, prompt script., Sean O'Casey, Abbey Theatre, 1926, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Based on the events of the Easter Rising 1916 O'Casey's play caused considerable controversy when it premiered in 1926. The widows of 1916 figured among the opposition.

Barry Fitzgerald in The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey., Photographer unknown, Abbey Theatre, 1926, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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Barry Fitzgerald as Fluther Good in The Plough and the Stars by Sean O'Casey, 1926.

New Abbey Theatre. (1966) by John DonatAbbey Theatre

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising

1966 saw commemorations at the Abbey Theatre's temporary home at the Queen's Theatre and later at the new Abbey Theatre, opened by President Eamon De Valera on 18th July.  The following week a commemorative plaque was unveiled, celebrating the participation of Abbey actors and staff in the Easter Rising.

Easter Rising Commemorative programme., Abbey Theatre, 1966-04, From the collection of: Abbey Theatre
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The Abbey Theatre's 1966 commemorative programme, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter Rising.

Unveiling of the Easter Rising 1916 commemoration plaque. (1966-07-23) by Photographer unknownAbbey Theatre

Unveiling the Easter Rising 1916 commemoration plaque in the foyer of the new Abbey Theatre, July 1966.

Easter Rising 1916 commemorative plaque at the Abbey Theatre. (1966) by Photographer unknownAbbey Theatre

Easter Rising 1916, 50th anniversary commemorative plaque at the Abbey Theatre. In 2016 a new plaque will be unveiled, honouring more Abbey Theatre actors and staff who took part in the Rising.

Credits: Story

Curator: Mairéad Delaney (Abbey Theatre Archivist)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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